London Calling, California Dreaming

This summer calls for the return of me as a reseracher. I will spend a number of weeks working in London together with Stephen Coleman at Hansard Society and London School of Economics and Political Sciences (LSE). I’ll also be going to California this summer, invited by Pacific Council on International Policy to speak at a meeting. I hope to catch up with Etienne while I’m there. I want to talk with him about eCoPs.

eConsultion, online engagement of citizens in government

London is calling. Online Engagement – Evaluation And Recommendations is the formal title of a research project to be conducted between July and October 2001, under the joint direction of Stephen Coleman (Hansard Society) and John Gotze (Swedish Agency for Public Management). Research support will be provided by Samantha Cole and Nicola Hall.

The aim of the research is to explore online engagement between local/national governments/parliaments and citizens, evaluate a number of case studies and offer some practical recommendations for the future.

The project will comprise the following sections:

1. An examination of offline attempts to engage citizens in consultations/deliberations with institutions of governance. (Stephen Coleman to write)

2. An examination of appropriate technologies/software for online engagement. (John Gotze to write)

3. In-depth interviews with those involved in ten case studies of online engagement:
i) Sweden
ii) UK
iii) France
iv) Brazil
v) Canada
vi) Finland
vii) Netherlands
viii) Australia
ix) Italy
x) Northern Ireland

(These to be researched and written up by Sam Cole & Nicola Hall)

4. A set of clear recommendations for future exercises in engaging citizens online

1. A report of approximately 35,000 words – comprising 5000 words each in sections 1 and 2, 20,000 words in section 3 and 5000 words in section 4. The report to be distributed widely to local/national governments globally.
2. A seminar/conference to be held somewhere in Europe sometime in 2001.

The project is inspired by several currents in the broad areas of eGovernment, eDemocracy, eGovernance, eWhatnot. But also by what happens in “new New Public Management”, or whatever the modern, but not necessarily “e”-oriented trends in public management are called. There are various “disciplines” which would be interesting to bring together, for a good look into current “best practice” ePractices.

Communities of Practice

Etienne Wenger’s latest survey on e-tools for eCoPs, electronically supported Communities of Practice, is very interesting. I find it very useful and inspiring for my technology chapter on e-consultation.

“The social production of meaning is the relevant level of analysis for talking about practice.” (Wenger)

In making that argument, Etienne introduces three basic concepts – negotiation of meaning, participation, and reification.

“Technology platform are often described in terms of features, but in order to really evaluate candidates for a technology platform, it is useful to start with the success factors of communities of practice that can be affected by technology.” (Wenger)

Etienne’s report provides a table of thirteen success factors with examples of how a technology platform can affect the success of a community in each area.

These factors, or at least some/most of them, are relevant to e-consultations.

Stakeholder Engagement

“In order to enhance their own understanding of social result – and to respond to the demands of stakeholders – public service managers must reach out beyond the boundaries of their organisations and establish a dialogue with their communities. At the same time, they need to engage members of their own organisations in wider discussions about goals and performance. (OPM)
OPM design and conduct consultation methods that “respond sensitively to public service organisations’ requirements for openness and transparency”. They aim to “help public service organisations to build a genuine, sustainable dialogue with their communities and service users and to create opportunities for the public’s voice to be heard”. They help clients “to ‘manage for social result’ by advancing their own primary social objectives – such as community development, environmental sustainability and equality of opportunity – whilst maintaining strong financial performance.”

OPM also has experience with innovative methods such as community conferences and surveys, user panels, citizens’ juries and focus groups, deliberative polling and simulations. Their knowledge of social science methodologies enables them to design and use reliable measurement tools and to carry out appropriate analyses that measure need, service performance or impact.

Managing for social result: Public services are the principal means through which people transact with their government outside of the ballot box. As a consequence, the design and management of public services must be guided by the unique social purpose – the improvement of social results – which citizens expect their government to fulfil. (PMF)

I want to try and get OPM/PMF to make a contribution to the Service Dialogues project.

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